Confession: I wet my pants. I pee a little when I'm running to catch up with my speedy toddler. I pee a little when I sneeze. Or laugh too hard. And I cannot go near a bouncy house or a trampoline park—they're my worst nightmare.
I was never a bed-wetter. I never had accidents as a kid. I was NOT the kid who smelled like pee. In fact, everything was fine until I gave birth to my kids. Maybe it's supposed to be a cosmic lesson in empathy, that when your kids are soiling themselves in diapers, you can't jump over a puddle or run to catch a train without peeing a little on yourself. I don't want to be the mom who has to cut in front of my potty training toddler in the bathroom line, chirping, "Mommy first! Then you get to go!"
But there I was: After a hundred million kegels, I could not exercise without peeing. I wore black tights at first so it wouldn't show as badly, and then finally just stopped doing anything that involved running or jumping, because who wants to be the mom who smells like pee? I was living with it well enough, just getting through the baby years and thinking that I would focus on fi myself later. And then one day, my kids became completely independent in the bathroom and I started looking at ads for the new fancy "leakage" underwear and wondering how 30 became the new 80.
This is all humiliating stuff (notice how this piece is anonymous?) and not something women ever really talk about. When , a "state-of-the-art, minimally-invasive outpatient solution...that is fast, painless and completely safe" offered me a round of treatments, I figured I had nothing to lose. And that's how I ended up in a doctor's office, naked from the waist down, wearing a pair of goggles and having a laser beam shot between my legs to tighten my muscles and help me stop wetting my pants.
IT'S NOT JUST FOR CELEBRITIES
Vaginal rejuvenation, the demure term for the trend around whipping your vagina back into shape, has an aura of Hollywood-wellness-community. The general idea is that the vagina is restored to a more youthful state. It can help tighten, decrease dryness and decrease or eliminate stress incontinence (like from running, sneezing, coughing). There are surgical procedures and non-invasive treatments like Femilift to help women have better sex, play sports and live their lives again without having to constantly geotarget a bathroom.
Femilift set me up with , an OBGYN in Manhattan who was one of the first to embrace this technology. Dr. Jovanovic was quick to counsel me that it is not a cure-all. "This is complicated and figuring out what is causing the problem often takes some investigation. But it can't hurt, and it can only help you have better success with other treatments we can try down the road."
THE IDEAL PATIENT
Femilfit is similar to a laser resurfacing treatment for your face, where the outer layer is sloughed off and the new skin underneath is revealed. According to the manufacturer, Alma, it's not just for incontinence, which is my primary issue. They say: "Millions of women suffer from vaginal irregularities and structural changes due to childbirth, age or a variety of other reasons...leading to a variety of symptoms including pain, itching and heaviness. [This] can lead to diminished vaginal health and vaginal conditions that may impact a woman's lifestyle. The ideal patient would be any woman who is experiencing these issues."
"The Femi will benefit most women," says Dr. Jovanovic. "I had a patient who is really into Crossfit. But now she's leaking every time she jumps rope. It became more noticeable because she was doing more physical fitness than she ever had done before, and the Femi was the perfect solution for her."
Older women and cancer patients can really benefit, too. For women who are widowed or their husbands are sick or who just haven't had sex in awhile, there is dryness and shrinking that comes with age that can make sex incredibly painful. The Femi has been proven to help with lubrication. And then there's a cancer patient Dr. Jovanovic tells me about: "She had radiation for uterine cancer and it shrinks the tissues. Her vagina was dry and shrunken. When I tried to do an exam or put anything inside, it tore and was painful. I couldn't prescribe her hormone creams because of her cancer. The Femi thickens the tissues and brings them back to life. After three sessions, the patient was able to have normal sex."
And Dr. Jovanovic is even working on a study about using the treatment on post-partum breastfeeding women—since there are no chemicals, it is safe for breastfeeding women. And often, vaginal dryness is an effect of breastfeeding, which can make intercourse painful. The idea is to have a vaginal rehab or post-partum accelerated healing.
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE
Dr. Jovanovic's nurse brings me back into the treatment room and has me undress and put on a paper robe, opening to the front. I lay down on an exam table, feet in stirrups, and put on a pair of eye covers while the machine is whirring next to me. Dr. Jovanovic inserts the probe and zaps the laser every centimeter or so, slowly moving it throughout my vagina. I have no pain at all and only know that it's happening because the machine beeps as he zaps me.
Afterward, I put on a maxipad for any discharge, promise to stick nothing up my vagina for three days (no tampons! no sex! nothing!) and ride my bike home. (Yes, really!) It was as simple as that. The whole treatment took less than five minutes. (At a cost of about $1,000 per session plus $250 for the laser cover, this is not an inexpensive procedure, but it's certainly not as expensive as surgery—and requires almost no recovery time.)
After my first treatment, I noticed a difference. I came back to my second treatment excited to tell Dr. Jovanovic about how I'd started running again. By my third treatment (most people recommend three treatments), I was running miles at a time with absolutely no leakage.
MY FINAL VERDICT
I'm still a work in progress. Unfortunately, I recently got a cold and it became very clear to me that while the running/jumping portion of the stress incontinence have been reduced, the sneezing/coughing is still an issue. I, dear reader, had to buy the weewee pads. Dr. Jovanovic thinks that two more rounds of Femi might do the trick, or we can start investigating other options. "If your goal is just tightening and lubrication, then three sessions would be enough. But to treat a larger issue like severe incontinence takes more investigation. If we have to do surgery, you'll heal better from having done the Femi first. To figure out what's going on, we need to turn over every stone," Dr. Jovanovic tells me.
So while Dr. Jovanovic and I have a little more work to do to completely resolve my issue, I know with a little more investigation, I will no longer be the mom who smells like pee.
As of August 2018, the FDA is warning that "vaginal rejuvenation" devices have "serious risks and [we] don't have adequate evidence to support their use for these purposes."